Friday, October 29, 2010

This Week's Online Find: Dipity

Do you love timelines as much as I do? Maybe it's the orderly Virgo in me, but for me there's nothing quite like the steady visual progression of chronological events to bring an entire concept into focus. In fact, the only thing I've ever disliked about timelines was the need to arrange and space those tiny little descriptive boxes -- and the tiny little print needed to go in them.

But all that has changed with Dipity, a free online digital timeline creator. Dipity users easily can create interactive timelines integrating video, audio, images, text, links, social media, location and timestamps. Timelines can be private or public; timeline creators can allow no one, anyone, or a list of specific someones to view or edit their timelines -- so students can work on timelines individually, in small groups, or as an entire class.

But don't take my word for it. Check it out yourself. You have to register, but -- as always -- this featured timeline tool is free.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Failure to Communicate

I received an email this week from the parent of perhaps one of your students. The email said (with minor edits for clarity and appropriate language):

"I am the mother of a student whose teacher has a weekly blog. I am informed every Friday that, should I be interested in knowing what my child did during the past week, I must log on to her blog.

Three things you should know from a busy, working parent's perspective:
1) I am convinced that there are few things in the world more egotistical than a teacher with a blog.
2) If you have the time to email me telling me to check your blog, why could you not just email me what you put in the blog in the first place and save me a bunch of time.
3) If you insist on having a blog, then DO NOT use my child's name -- not even his first name or initials. It is no one's business except mine and my family's what you did with my child this week and what his reaction was or was not. Using his initials is not protecting his identity from other parents in the class or people in the neighborhood who may log on.

I despise teacher blogs. I dread getting that annoying email every Friday. I can think of 20 things this teacher could be doing to educate those kids every week other than this.

I understand that blogging is all the rage. I get it. I just think it is not good form to insist that parents 'check out my blog' to find out what was taught this week. This experience has put a bad taste in my mouth for this teacher."

What we've got here, folks, is a failure to communicate. We've got a teacher trying to communicate efficiently and effectively what's going on in her classroom. And we've got a parent telling me about her anger at the method of communication the teacher is using. Lots of communication from both, it appears, with no actual communicating taking place.

From where I sit waaaay in the back of the room, it sounds as though the busy teacher has failed to explain to her students' parents why she's chosen to blog and what she hopes to accomplish. And the seething parent certainly has not shared her objections to blogging with her child's teacher. I guess she expects me to do it for her. So I have -- whoever you are. (You know who you are :)

But c'mon, people. Don't get mad; get together. Talk to each other. Isn't that what educating kids is all about?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lies, Half-Truths, and Misdirection

Election Day 2010 is fast approaching and I still don't know which candidates I'm voting for this year -- or should I say which candidates I'm voting against? Because truely, based on the campaign ads I've seen and heard and read this election year, I couldn't begin to tell you even one plank in the platform of any of the candidates for either major party.

I can tell you, however, that Richard Blumenthal lied about his service in Vietnam; that WWE's Linda McMahon apparently wears chains, not pearls, when not engaged in public debate; that Dan Malloy drove the city of Stamford to financial ruin; while Tom Foley single-handedly shut down a Georgia town. I can tell you, in short, that in Connecticut, at least, this has been the dirtiest campaign year in my memory -- which is not short. These are campaigns rife with personal attacks and all-out efforts to make one's opponent look venal or stupid or confused or corrupt using only innuendo, half-truths, and outright lies. I know I live in Connecticut -- the home of John Rowland and Eddie Perez and Joe Ganim and Philip Giordano -- but I've never been quite as ashamed of my state as I have during the current election.

So you can understand why a recent email from RaceBridges for Schools caught my eye. The RaceBridges For Schools site, an outgrowth of a Chicago project called Catholic Schools Opposing Racism (COR), provides classroom tools to help kids explore issues regarding racial justice and inclusive behavior. The site's highlighted topic this month is "Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable: The Search for Civility."

Wow! That's going to be a tough search in Connecticut this year, but maybe it's a search we can facilitate in the future if we use some of these RaceBridges For Schools resources today:

* Classroom Activities
* Resources
* Lesson Plan Ideas
* A Checklist for Teachers
* Reflections

Waiting for Superman

It isn't the cute little kids in Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman that will tug at your heartstrings; it's the parents. It's Daisy's unemployed father who believes his 10-year-old can do and be anything -- if she only gets the chance. It's Bianca's mother who pays $500 a month -- $500 a month on a receptionist's salary! -- to send her kindergartner to parochial school. It's Anthony's grandmother who's reluctant to send the fifth grader to boarding school -- but is more terrified of losing him, like his father, to the D.C. streets. It's Francisco's mother who despite phone calls and letters and personal pleas from the second grader himself can't get his teacher to set up a parent conference or even to send home his work folder. (What are you thinking, Mr. Saxon?) Oh sure, the kids -- the promising victims of education's broken promises -- in this eye-opening documentary will touch you; but the parents? The parents will break your heart.

Don't get me wrong. This film isn't a tear-jerker of the obvious kind. Nobody dies. Nobody gets sick. No one is physically injured. No animals are harmed in the making of this movie. In fact, nothing much at all happens in Waiting for Superman. It's the kind of movie people in my area call "Cinema City Movies" after the theater that most often shows them -- the independents, the avant-garde, the Brittish period pieces, the documentaries -- the critically acclaimed movies that, except for their interesting wierdness, can threaten to anesthetize you with their tedium.

Waiting for Superman contains no murders, no car chases, no cops, no clues, no courtrooms, no weddings or funerals or pratfalls. It is nothing more than a look at the lives of five real families searching for the best education -- in most cases, just an education -- for their children. It is both ordinary and extraordinary; tedious and tragic.

Waiting for Superman isn't a horror film, but the statistics detailing the United States' fall from academic grace during the past 25 years will shock you. It isn't a mystery, but you will be mystified by our seeming intractable inability to educate our poorest kids. It isn't a suspense film. It tries to be, in a scene showing the familes waiting to learn their kids' academic fate in various charter school lotteries, but with their chances ranging from 5 percent to less than 50 percent, the suspense is limited. It isn't a fantasy -- at least I hope it isn't a fantasy that these parents can find an education for their kids. It isn't a comedy -- well, it definitely isn't a comedy. It isn't a tragedy -- but then again, I guess it is. And it will -- I hope -- make you cry.

If you're a teacher -- especially if you're an urban teacher -- see the movie. And tomorrow, when you go into your classroom, promise yourself that from now on you'll do harder...fight more fiercely for your students. You know you can. We all know that better teaching isn't the only answer. But it's a big part of the answer. Do your part.

If you want to know more about the movie and the families in it, check out Waiting for Superman, the website.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This Week's Online Find:
60second Recap

If you're a bookophile...a reluctant reader...the parent of teens...a middle- or high-school teacher (of any subject)...a teen who loves books...a teen who "hates" to read...a student struggling to understand your assigned reading...really, whoever you are...go immediately to 60second Recap™ and bookmark the site. This is a url you'll want to hold on to.

The mission of 60second Recap™ is to "make the great works of literature accessible, relevant, and, frankly, irresistible to today’s teens...not just to help them get better grades, but to help them build better lives." But it's really a site for anyone who's ever loved -- or strugggled with -- a book. And it's a site that warrants my highest praise: "Why didn't I think of that?"

This Week's Online Find:
Benchmark Grading

Benchmark Grading is a secure, flexible, standards-based online gradebook application created by a team of parents and teachers. The tool, preloaded with Common Core and some state standards (more are on the way), allows teachers to record assignments and grade students using rubrics, letter grades, or a grading scale of their choice. Parents can access progress reports, including teacher comments, and communicate with teachers using a secure messaging system. Best of all, Benchmark's online gradebook is free.

This Week's Online Find:
Google for Educators

Google was busy this summer, introducing three new tools that are sure to be useful for educators. You can check out Google News, Google Page Creator, Google Groups -- and many more cool Google tools -- at Google for Educators.

Not listed on that page, but definitely cool and educator-friendly are Google Voice, Google Call Phones, Google Instant, and Google Custom Search.

Did I mention Google Maps...or Google Reader..or...? Oh, heck, as long as you're there, just explore the entire growing suite of Google's online tools. They're free -- and they're fabulous.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October Is Bullying Prevention Month

Last spring, I bought a paperback version of the Jeffery Deaver novel Roadside Crosses to take with me on a trans-Atlantic cruise. My traveling companion absconded with the novel, however, and only returned it to me last week. Consequently, I’m now about halfway through the book, the third in Deaver’s high-tech trilogy, which deals with a teen’s murderous revenge on the cyberbullies who’ve been tormenting him.

As engrossing as Deaver’s stories always are, I put down that book for a few hours this weekend to visit my dentist’s office, where I picked up a recent copy of People Magazine. That particular issue featured on the cover photographs of young people who’ve taken their own lives recently, apparently at least partially driven to suicide by the trauma of cyberbullying.

This morning, I arrived at work to find among my emails, a message from the Center for Social and Emotional Education (CSEE) about BullyBust, a program designed to “help schools put an end to bullying with targeted school-wide and classroom-based efforts.”

And then, of course, October is National Bullying Prevention Month.

The muses, it seems, are conspiring to induce me to write about bullying this week. And why not? According to CSEE, “almost 30 percent of youth in the United States (more than 5.7 million students) are estimated to be involved in bullying as a bully, a target of bullying or both, and at least 10 percent of students are bullied on a regular basis.” And according to iSafe, “42 percent of kids have been bullied at least once while online” and “53 percent of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online at least once.”

I’m not going to tell you that bullying -- whether it takes place on the school playground or the cyber playground -- is bad, and ultimately destructive to both bully and bullied. I’d just be preaching to the choir. I am, however, going to remind you that, whether you see it or not, bullying is happening to your students every day -- in your classroom, in your hallways, on your playground, at your bus stops and street corners, and online. Be aware of it. Lobby for a school-wide program of bullying prevention, if you don’t already have one. If you do have one, however, don’t rely on it alone to keep the students in your classroom safe. Create and maintain a climate of kindness in your classroom and encourage your students to carry that spirit outside the classroom as well.

If you aren’t sure where to start, some of these resources can help:

Bullies to Buddies: A Psychological Solution to Bullying. The resources at this site, which are primarily geared toward the victims of bullies, include humorous videos and role play.

Bullying Special Theme Page. This page features all the Education World articles, lessons, and other resources on bullying -- an extensive collection. from the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. Nancy Willard’s CSRIU features common sense resources on cyberbullying for parents and educators. Check out the new Digital Desiderata.

iSafe Cyberbullying Statistics and Tips. i-SAFE is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to educate and empower youth to make their Internet experiences safe and responsible.

J. Richard Knapp Bully Prevention Newsletter. This free bully prevention newsletter for parents and educators features authors, video links, and more.

Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Created by Dan Olweus, this is one of the oldest, best known, and most respected bullying prevention programs. This national public education campaign for teens uses games and videos to raise awareness of teen dating abuse.

If you know of any other online resources about bullying or cyberbullying, please share them with your colleagues in the Comment section of this blog.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Contests and Competitions

If the ancient proverb is correct and "Competition is the whetstone of talent," then there appears to be much opportunity for honing talent this fall; my mailbox is brimming with announcements for contests and competitions. Whether you're a teacher or a student, an artist, a videographer, a comic strip aficionado, a geek, a patriot, an avid reader or a rabid environmentalist, or even just a member of a perennially needy school community, as long as you possess the spirit of competition, someone, somewhere is sponsoring a competition for you.

Are you an educator who's making a difference technologically? For the 23rd year, Tech & Learning is honoring K-12 administrators, technology coordinators, and teachers who are using technology in innovative ways. Nominate yourself or a colleague for the 2010 Leader of the Year, but do it soon -- the deadline for nominations is October 15.

Perhaps you're a talented new teacher at the beginning of -- or about to begin -- a career teaching high school math or science? If so, you'll want to check out the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation's KSTF Teaching Fellowships. Renewable for up to five years and valued at up to $150,000, the highly competitive fellowships are awarded annually in the areas of the biological sciences, physical sciences, and mathematics. Applicants should have received their most recent content degree within five years of the start of the fellowship. (Those in the final year of their degree program might also be eligible.) The deadline for submitting applications for these fellowships is January 12, 2011.

Not a techie or a newbie? Check out all the Teacher Awards and Competitions at TeachersCount. Among the Art Teacher Awards; Character Education Awards; English and Language Arts Teacher Awards; Foreign Language Teacher Awards; General Teacher Awards; Math, Science, and Technology Teacher Awards; Regional Awards; Social Studies Teacher Awards; and Special Education Awards, you're bound to find something on which to hone your considerable talents.

But what about your students? Whatever grade you teach, there's certain to be a contest or competition to add fun to their days and engagement and motivation to their education. Check out some of these contests (in no particular order):

Scholastic's Lexus Eco Challenge offers middle- and high-school students across the United States the opportunity to make a difference in the environmental health of their community. Student teams, working with a teacher, choose from a list of environmental topics one issue that affects their own community. Teams then develop a plan to address that issue, and submit that plan in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. Three separate challenges, involving three broad environmental topics, will be available this year. The deadline for Challenge 1 (Land and Water) is November 3.

The Being an American Essay Contest, now in its fifth year, is the largest high-school essay contest in the country, attracting more than 50,000 entries and awarding nearly $115,000 in prize money. The contest, administered by the Bill of Rights Institute, asks students to answer the question, "What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?" The contest deadline is December 1.

The MakeBeliefsComix Comic Strip Contest is an ongoing competition that students can enter again and again. Each month, students can submit by email their best comic strip created with MakeBeliefsComix comic strip creator. A selection of the comics will be posted to Make BeliefsComix Facebook Wall and the best of the selection will receive a book on comic strips written by Bill Zimmerman, founder of MakeBeliefsComix. This strikes me as a great opportunity to showcase the talents of those artistically talented students who don't always shine in the academic arena!

The New York Times Show Us Your City Video Contest isn't designed specifically for teachers or students, but what a great way to help students get to know -- and share -- what's special about their own home town! Even if you're not a videographer, Times' experts provide lots of simple tips and examples to help you guide your students to write and create a tour of your community. There's no deadline for this contest. The Times will "keep the submission form open as long as you keep sending videos!"

The Book Jam Digital Book Report Contest is another interactive competition -- and one that gives new meaning to the oh-so-ho-hum term "book report." Students pick a book -- either one of their favorites or one from your curriculum -- and create...well, just about anything but a traditional book report. According to the people at Recorded Books, who are sponsoring the contest, "we'd love to see rap songs about grammar...interactive presentations highlighting setting and symbolism...plays about conflict...and whatever else you and your students dream up." What can you dream up by October 28?

If you're looking for something a little less time-intensive, you might check out the Fall 2010 Shmoop High School Essay Contest. In this "Know Your Poe" themed competition, students are asked to decide whether the narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" and/or the speaker in "The Raven" are insane -- and then to defend their verdicts with hard evidence. Appropriately enough, the deadline for this contest is October 31.

Is there a teacher anywhere who has enough classroom technology for every student to participate in every valuable tech activity he or she would like to offer? I doubt it -- but you could be one teacher who does if you're the winner of the Global Classroom Makeover Video Contest. Sponsored by einstruction, the contest invites teacher and students to create a music video showing how they envision using technology to enhance teaching and learning. Three classrooms can win up to $75,000 worth of technology tools. Contest deadline is November 2.

The lure of contests might be the spice of competition, but the sugar of competition is, of course, the reward. One of this fall's biggest rewards is being offered by BING, Microsoft's new search engine. Our School Needs, a user-generated content competition, asks schools to share what they need -- from a gym to a library to a school store -- for the chance to win up to $100,000 toward fulfilling that need. Students write an essay describing what their school needs, take photos showing the need, and maybe even make a video dramatizing it. Then they ask everyone they know to rate their entries. The competition ends October 22.

So...what does your school need?